Governor rejects Detroit charter revision plan, citing state law violations

April 30, 2021, 1:22 PM

Years of work of the City of Detroit's Charter Commission was put in jeopardy Friday, as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer declined to approve the updated charter document submitted by the commission, citing conflicts with state law.

From left: charter commissioners Joanna Underwood and Barbara Wynder, activist Brenda Hill, and commission vice chair Nicole Small. (Photo: Violet Ikonomova)

Crain's Detroit Business reports:

"As you can see from the attached legal review, the Department of Attorney General has determined that the current draft has substantial and extensive legal deficiencies," Whitmer wrote in a Friday letter to revision commission chair Carol Weaver.

An analysis by George Elworth, assistant attorney general, adds:

"... It is concluded that the proposed charter includes provisions that are not consistent with the requirements of the (state Home Rule City Act), and other applicable state and federal law."

The commission's draft revision — which included a number of costly measures to support low-income residents — had been panned by city officials, who estimated it would cost $2 billion to implement and consume almost half the city's budget. Commission members dispute that number.

The commission can proceed by either amending the draft document to address the issues raised by the attorney general's office or submit the proposed charter for the Aug. 3 ballot despite the objections, according to the AG's approximately 180-page review.

The commission was seeking legal advice late Friday, said commissioner Joanna Underwood.

"It's unfortunate this is happening," Underwood said. "There's no words I can honestly say; I never thought this would go to this extreme."

The amended charter draft was submitted by the commission after years of work. Whitmer thanked the members, but said besides the legal problems, it could send the city back into bankruptcy. 

Among the changes the commission would make in city governance, according to the Chief Financial Officer's analysis, are that it authorizes 47 new elected positions, creates 11 new public boards with 79 new appointed commissioners, requires the city provide free wifi, sidewalks, water and bus service, and creates independent police and fire departments. 

The commission's early work was marked by raucous meetings and charges, between members, of assault, as a alleged "people's" and "corporatist" factions duked it out in what they saw as a battle for the future of the city. Hundreds of thousands of public dollars were spent in the process.

The existing city charter has a clause permitting voters to periodically put the document up for review and amendment at set intervals. The current commission was formed and empowered by voters in 2018. 

Read more:  Crain's Detroit Business

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